Some question whether the Roman Catholic Church ever changes. Some think it never changes. Some seem to think it is going to reflect society as a whole, if it can ever figure out what the whole society of the world would look like. Gonzalez analyzes the historical responses to the French Revolution, modernity, and the later move into the period of the World Wars.
Gonzalez, Justo L. The Story of Christianity: The Reformation to the Present Day. Revised and Updated ed. Vol. 2. New York: HarperCollins, 2010b. Kindle Electronic Edition.
Chapter 32, “Catholicism in the Face of Modernity” Loc. 6252-6524.
As modernity increased in the 18th-19th centuries, Gonzalez notes the Catholic response was consistent in opposition to such revolutions. Many aspects of the French Revolution were specifically intended to weaken the papacy (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6265). The papacy responded with purposeful theological conservatism (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6273). During the long reign of Pius IX (1846-1878) the pope was declared infallible, while at the same time losing political power, even being exiled from Rome in 1849 (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6287). By 1870 the Church had very little political power and was sovereign only over a small area in Italy (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6295). Yet Pius IX asserted Mary’s Immaculate Conception in 1854, also claiming the ability to work without a council (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6302). He further listed many areas in which Catholics would reject a broader society. The First Vatican Council further affirmed papal infallibility (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6343). Gonzalez notes that since the assertion in 1854, the only other assertion of authority was in 1950, when Pius XII affirmed Mary’s assumption into heaven (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6351).
After Pius IX, Leo XII (tenure 1878-1903) pursued a policy in which Catholics were urged to withdraw from political involvement (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6366). At the same time, laws which protect the rights of the poor are appropriate. It is right to defend those who are defenseless (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6381).
After Leo XII, Pius X took a much more conservative tack, a move which Gonzalez considers to have alienated many (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6412). In World War I Benedict XV continued the same policies. He was succeeded by Pius XI (1922-1939), who attempted to portray Christian piety as a matter of personal devotio. He greatly increased missionary activity (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6428). The rise of Nazism and Fascism caused difficulties as the Pope could not reliably approve any of the parties in the rising conflict (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6443). Pius XII (1939-1958) actively tried to overthrow Hitler, though remained neutral in World War II (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6457). His policies tended to assert Church authority even in political conflicts. Pius XII finally made some alliances with the Fascist regime of Franco in Spain by 1953 He also made significant moves toward theological conservatism (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6495). Even in that environment Gonzalez notes his work set the stage for Vatican II, the spread of churches outside Europe, and strengthening of areas which were former colonies of European powers (Gonzalez 2010b, Loc. 6502).
All the work of Wittenberg Door Campus Ministry, including this blog, is supported by the generosity of people like you. Please consider joining our team of prayer and financial supporters. Read more here!